Like many college students, my life has been flipped upside-down over the past month. I started March on a spring break trip to Israel, and I came back with amazing new friends and an accepted offer from my dream summer internship. I also came back to a country grappling with a global pandemic and falling into chaos.
During the span of one week, I had to say goodbye to all my friends and my independent life at college. I had to move out of my dorm and make storage and travel arrangements. After two weeks of online classes at home, I found out my summer internship program was canceled, causing me to have to add an extra semester and graduate later than planned.
I’ve tried a lot of different things to cope with all this upsetting change, from attempting TikTok dances to trying to become a master chef. A tried-and-true method I’ve always used to calm myself is by rewatching television or movies I’ve already seen and love — usually Mad Men or the Twilight Saga (the duality of woman).
But recently, my medicine has been Nora Ephron, whom I’ve always adored. And not just her movies, but her writing and pretty much everything she ever made up until her death in 2012. During my first few weeks of quarantine, I watched all of her movies and re-read her essays from my Most of Nora Ephron anthology that I got for Hanukkah last year. I also read a biography of her life and work, I’ll Have What She’s Having by Erin Carlson, named after the iconic line in When Harry Met Sally.
I’ve always deeply admired and related to Nora. We are both secular Jewish women, foodies, and journalists. I didn’t know who she was when she was alive, but in my young adult years, she has become my idol and inspiration. Nora’s three iconic romcoms — Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You’ve Got Mail — have become my favorite movies, despite them all having been released before I was born.
My first exposure to Nora was when I decided on a whim to watch Sleepless in Seattle on a plane. I became obsessed with her witty dialogue, love letters to cities, carefully chosen soundtracks, and cultural references. A Nora Ephron movie is a work of art. Everything is perfect, from the casting to the script to the locations and the music.
While the movies aren’t overtly Jewish, all have a distinctive culturally Jewish air about them, especially When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. After all, two of the most important scenes in these movies are at Katz’s Delicatessen and Zabar’s, respectively.
Just listening to the movie soundtracks calms me, which is why I made a playlist with the soundtracks from her films to listen to while doing work. I’ve seen the movies so many times that a song instantly calls up memories of the scene it’s used in. “A Wink and a Smile” is Meg Ryan stalking Tom Hanks and his son around Seattle. “Dreams” is a montage of Meg and Tom walking around the Upper West Side, circling each other but never coming in contact. And, of course, “It Had to Be You,” is Harry and Sally finally realizing they’re meant to be together (sorry, spoiler alert?).
Beyond her movies, I have been finding solace in her writing. Nora’s insightful essays are exactly what I need to put things in perspective. Her writing is so personal and intimate that it makes you feel like a friend of hers. From The Apthorp to egg white omelettes to Scrabble Blitz, she approached every topic with heart and wit.
Her journalism has been inspiring my reporting and writing drive in a way I never expected. Her magazine features are a master class in ledes, characterization, and voice that have only been matched in this lifetime by maybe Rachel Syme.
Last summer, during a lonely time in my life, I listened to the audiobook version of I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, narrated by Nora herself. I remember walking around my college campus, Nora’s voice in my ears, and beginning to cry. I didn’t understand how I could feel grief for someone I had never met and never even knew of during their life. But, listening to Nora read her list of what she’ll miss after dying, knowing that she died two years after the book’s release, I felt overwhelmed with grief.
Her life and the footprint she had on the world was so magnificent, and her impact on me has been so profound. I wish Nora was still alive today — I would love to know her thoughts on Trump, and I know she’d be writing incessantly about her quarantine cooking endeavors.
When I need to feel calm, I put on a Nora Ephron movie. I reread I Feel Bad About My Neck or Wallflower at the Orgy. I remember everything she accomplished and put out into the world, and it reminds me of my dreams and my ambition. If I can accomplish half of what Nora accomplished in her life, I will consider myself a success.
Image of Nora Ephron in header by Jack Manning/New York Times Co./Getty Images.
How I Keep Calm is our new series featuring different ways people manage anxiety. If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “How I Keep Calm” in the subject line.